The final chapter
An interview with Michael Jackson biographer Ian Halperin
When celebrity biographer Ian Halperin announced in December 2008 that Michael Jackson was suffering from a rare genetic disorder that could prove fatal in six months, his claims barely caused a ripple. Everything changed when the King of Pop died on June 25, 2009 — almost six months to the day of Halperin's prediction.
Upon Jackson’s passing, Halperin and his Montreal publisher, Transit, quickly added a new chapter to an already completed biography. Soon after, Halperin found himself much in demand on the media circuit, and has since watched his book, Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson, climb to No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Halperin spoke to CBCNews.ca about his prediction of Jackson’s death, allegations about the singer’s homosexuality and why Jackson should never have agreed to do 50 concerts in London, England.
Q: You first conceived the book in 2005, shortly before Jackson was acquitted of child molestation charges. What was your impetus?
A: I was furious. I thought we had another O.J. getting off, and I said, "That’s it. I’m going to make all these people look silly and I’m going to get to the bottom of the case." I thought this was going to be the easiest case I ever had to crack! I thought, how difficult could this be to get three or four more kids to come out, because one thing: I did research. If you do one or two children, there have to be other children as well, who were at least approached, or abused, so I thought this would be a piece of cake. And as time went on, I kept realizing, "Wow, why are these people hiding out? Or am I doing a terrible job? What’s going on here? Why am I not getting to the bottom of this much quicker?" And in the end, I point to several things in the book that really changed my opinion.
Q: In 1993, Jackson settled with the family of Jordan Chandler, another boy who claimed to have been molested by the pop star. In your book, you suggest that Jordan’s dad, Evan, had given Jordan the drug sodium amytal, which is often associated with cases of false memory syndrome. That’s pretty damning.
A: Yes, absolutely awful, and his son giving that testimony... But I think it was more that insurance document, the court document, where clearly, in black and white, the document said that the insurance company forced Michael to settle, and he was livid: he maintained his innocence. Also, the description by Chandler of Michael’s private parts did not match. He said [Michael]’s circumcised. He’s not circumcised.
Q: That’s a glaring discrepancy.
A: One thing you’ve got to realize, the courts were out to get [Jackson]. He was going into the unknown. If he stepped into a courtroom – we’ve seen it all in California. And it could have been a very smart move, too, on the other hand: avoid the public scrutiny, let’s close it down. He says he’s innocent, he cried about this. But why have to put himself up on a stand and be examined for charges he said 100 per cent he was innocent of? So there’s a lot of different ways you can play it out.
In the ’93 case, my personal opinion is that he’s 100 per cent innocent, and that Chandler, it was an extortion attempt.
Q: What are your thoughts about the recent developments in the case? I’m thinking specifically of the police raid on the home of Dr. Conrad Murray, who is thought to have administered an anesthetic that ended up killing Jackson.
A: I knew about the raid coming up. I didn’t go out with that, because if it didn’t happen, I’d be toast. I’m very careful on what I release; it has to be 110 per cent accurate or I’m not going out with it. So I came out with the story, and three days later, the raids went on and the police said for the first time that manslaughter charges are on the table.
Q: Do you have strong opinions about whether Jackson’s death was murder or an accident?
A: I do commend the police for doing the investigation the way they’re doing it. They haven’t rushed to charge anyone. You have about 20 doctors and at least 50 Jackson handlers right now, and employees, former employees, friends shaking in their boots and perspiring. And the police, they have to make sure that they get this case right. If you look at the history of the LAPD with high-profile celebrity cases, it is tenuous. People are asking me, "How do you think he died?" I’m not a coroner, I’m not a cop. I will reserve judgment until the police reports are made, and until the autopsy and the toxicology report comes out. And then we’ll see.
Q: You state in the book that you believe Michael Jackson was homosexual. How did you arrive at that conclusion?
A: If this was a Caucasian artist, nobody would be making any statements about the gay angle in the book. It’s only two pages! Michael Jackson said he never came out because he feared racism. He said guys like George Michael, Boy George, Elton John can come out, their careers go through the roof. African-Americans can’t, and I challenge everyone to read a book called Hiding in Hip Hop by Terrance Dean. He wrote a book about rap artists being unable to come out of the closet, because they’re African-American, and that’s why I believe Michael in this. I don’t care about his sexuality, but I had people come on the record [to say] that they had intimacy with Michael Jackson, and I had to run with that. They provided proof.
Q: What sort of proof?
A: They had photographs, documentation and witnesses who saw them together. Not in bed together – nobody was ever in the bedroom. But these allegations were concrete, and these people will come out eventually.
Q: What were your thoughts at the moment you heard of Jackson’s death?
A: I know when he died, I wasn’t exactly shocked.
Q: Yes, well, you had predicted it.
A: I’d predicted it, but I was saddened. And then I didn’t sleep for the next five days. I wanted to write a good conclusion [to the book], so I don’t know what I was really feeling. It was very rushed. No one pressured me. They pulled the book off the presses, it was being printed, and they said, "Do what you feel is right." And I said, "I’ll try to find out a lot." You know, unfortunately, there was very little released about [Dr. Conrad] Murray at that time. I have a little bit about him and I would’ve liked to get more, but there was just no time.
Q: In obit pieces on television, people are talking about what a savvy person Michael was.
A: [Laughs.] Are they saying that? Oh my God! That’s the furthest thing from the truth! He made terrible decisions! Whoever said that? Au contraire. He let undesirables, he let everyone, into his household.
Q: You think he was too trusting?
A: He was. Look at [Martin] Bashir [who interviewed Michael for a documentary in 2003]. [Michael] should’ve never agreed to that! He loved human beings. He trusted human beings, even after he got burned by them. And he made bad decisions. He was not shrewd, he was not some incredible business person. He let his handlers work with all the money, while he handled the creative, at his insistence. They were just throwing the money out the window, and he didn’t even object.
Q: At the end of your book, you say that his handlers forced him into the 50 tour dates in London.
A: Vultures. They should’ve had him in a hospital, recuperating, getting proper medical attention — not from these five doctors, who were home doctors, and giving him prescription drugs in a residential setting. He should have been in a real hospital, getting attention both physically and mentally. He was very depressed.
Q: When you went undercover, were you able to glean that immediately?
A: He was sad. Oh my gosh. But he was so smart. He could talk to you about the history of music, about Hollywood, he knew everything. But if you looked at the guy one on one, it was scary. He was so frail.
Q: Was that what led you to predict his death back in December?
A: No, it was because two people in his camp came to me and said, "Look, this guy’s dying. Nobody’s listening. We’re outnumbered." They questioned me, they said, "Dude, are you really doing this sympathetic [inquiry], or is this another Bashir-type investigation?" I guaranteed them I wasn’t [doing the latter]. They still didn’t trust me, but I was their only shot to get the story out properly, and then they started feeding me medical records, private information about Michael.
You know I didn’t expect six months to the day, that’s crazy, but I did expect the people in his camp to wake up and get him into a hospital. And at least to say, "OK, Halperin’s wrong." But what do they do instead? They turn around and start positioning a 50-day residency…
Q: And pimping him out, basically.
A: Exactly. And pimping him out when not even a top rock star in his twenties, who’s healthy, would be able to handle that. Fifty dates? C’mon. And the problem with Michael was, he said he would not perform unless he’s 100 per cent. He’s always said that. So his handlers thought, like some athlete, injured, pump him up with some drugs, put him out in the field, nobody notices. Jackson said that he would never rip off his fans.
Q: In the book, you’re pretty tough on journalist Diane Dimond, whom you accuse of shoddy research in the Jackson case. How does your work differ from hers?
A: As far as Diane Dimond goes, one thing I’ve gotta be clear about: I’d never trash another journalist. I respect anyone who gets on the playing field and tries, 100 per cent. And I’m not better than Diane Dimond. We have our own styles, but I will never trash. I do mark some inconsistencies, but as far as going public and dissing her, it’s just not fair. I only diss people who sit in their armchairs who say, "Hey, Halperin did a terrible job, this and that." They’re eating potato chips, and what have they done? If they can do better than me, I’ll tip my hat to them.
Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson is in stores now.
Lee Ferguson writes about the arts for CBCNews.ca.